By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (June 2, 2015) US Soccer Players – With the UEFA Champions League final just four days away, the annual discussion on which country has the best domestic league has sprouted up again. Indeed, this topic comes up around this time of year when Europe’s major domestic league races come to an end and fans and pundits alike are searching for a way to put the past 10 months into context. As Barcelona and Juventus prepare to meet in Berlin on Saturday, this simmering debate has come to a boil.
With England’s Premier League considered by many to be the world’s most-competitive domestic competition, it came as a surprise when clubs from that country failed to reach the quarterfinals of the Champions League this season. Perhaps it’s the lucrative TV contracts of the Premier League or the fact that Americans have made it part of their weekly sports fix. Either way, a lot of attention is placed on what goes on in England – for better or worse – by many fans.
However, with Barcelona reaching this year’s Champions League final (and Real Madrid the semifinals), those arguing that Spain’s La Liga is tops had that statistical crutch to lean on. Spain’s domination of the Champions League and Europa League in recent years raises another question. Does the Champions League determine which country has the world’s best domestic competition?
Well, not always.
Certainly, having Juventus in the final this year helps the reputation of the Turin-based club. What does it mean for Serie A as a whole? Juventus has dominated the domestic scene for some time now, with no other teams even coming close. Spain, on the other hand, is a different case.
Serie A was once had the best league in the world during the mid-1980s and through part of the 1990s because it had several teams that dominated the scene domestically. Milan, Juventus, Inter Milan, Napoli, and Sampdoria were some of the best teams in Europe. Serie A featured lots of goals back then, something special for a nation that favors defensive tactics. It was no coincidence that Serie A also had the world’s best players. Following that argument, Spain has the strongest domestic league, not England.
For context, one can look to the International Federation of Football History and Statistics, who determined this past January that Spain’s domestic competition is indeed the “strongest national league of the world” for the fourth consecutive year. Spain beat out – in this order – England, Germany, Italy and Brazil. The IFFHS says it determines league rankings on “results of the clubs” in all national, continental and intercontinental competitions. “This principle has proved to be a very sensitive and an objective indicator,” the IFFHS said on its website.
In other words, Spanish teams – specifically Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid – dominated domestic and international tournaments. A look at Spain’s domestic winners at the end of the 2014 calendar year show Atletico winning the league and Real Madrid the Copa del Rey, Champions League, European SuperCup, and FIFA Club World Cup. Sevilla won the Europa League title in 2013-14 and this season won it again. As a result, five Spanish clubs – more than any other nation – will participate in next season’s Champions League.
When the world’s best players gravitate to one domestic league over another that makes the point about quality. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi might choose to play with European super clubs, but they’re both playing in Spain.
Money is power when it comes to signing players. Silvio Berlusconi and his AC Milan teams of the 1980s and ‘90s dominated the scene because they spent money on the best players in the world. Ruud Gullit, Marco van Basten, Paolo Maldini, Franco Baresi, and Roberto Donadoni were all part of those memorable teams.
These days, Spain is the place to be at the top of the transfer market. Real Madrid makes the highest profits in the world, according to Deloitte’s annual report, but Barcelona has spent the most money on its players in regards to salary. The top five players in terms of earnings are: Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar (Barcelona), Thiago Silva (PSG) and Robin van Persie (Manchester United). Lucrative TV contracts have certainly helped the rich clubs get richer aided by shirt sponsorship revenues and various other global marketing deals. Those same deals propel Real Madrid and Barcelona and help buy them the best players.
This year’s Champions League final is reminiscent of the Barcelona-Sampdoria game in 1992. In that final at the old Wembley Stadium, Barcelona won, 1-0, in overtime. Despite that, Italy still had the superior league.
La Liga will try to cement its domination with Barcelona on Saturday. But with money floating across several leagues, including Germany and France, La Liga’s domination may come to an end in a matter of just a few short years. For now, however, Spanish soccer remains tops no matter whether or not Barcelona beats Juventus.
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